NBA Playoffs: Jayson Tatum’s resurgence forces a Game 7 with title odds at stake

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On the court after Jayson Tatum resurfaced from an attempt that could forever stain his legacy to outsmart the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth quarter, Jaylen Brown greeted his Boston Celtics co-star with a smile. embraced together, which belied profound doubts about the long-term viability of their partnership.

The All-NBA duo lived to fight together another day, surviving a rollercoaster 95–86 victory in Philadelphia to even three games each in the Eastern Conference semifinals and Boston on Mother's Day. Forced Game 7.

It cannot be overstated how poorly Tatum performed in the first 43 minutes of the game. Boston's 16-point first half lead disappeared by the final quarter, when Tatum was in the midst of a slump. A heinous transition turnover and a worse clear-path foul gave the Sixers an 83–81 lead with six minutes remaining.

Tatum was 1-for-14 from the field when he found reigning MVP Joel Embiid for a corner 3-pointer with 4:14 on the clock and his team trailing by 2. He found the net the first time after the second—the quarter layup ricocheted—and he found it again from 28 feet on Boston's next possession. He drilled two and 3 in the stretch, including a dagger in the last minute. 4th quarter ends: Tatum 16, Sixers 13.

“I am, humbly, one of the best players in the world,” Tatum, who finished with 19 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and a pair of blocks, told 's Cassidy Huberth in a walk-off interview. .

“Just believe the next one is going, it's as simple as s*** it sounds,” he added later. “Really it was all about getting it off my back and … coming out of here with a win.”

The minutes were from a session of questions about Celtics first-year head coach Joe Mazzulla's job status, Tatum's ceiling, Brown's next contract and trade scenarios involving each member of the rotation.

The pressure shifts to the Sixers, whose Game 7 experience with their own leadership group has been a nightmare. Embiid hasn't won a Game 7 in his last two attempts, including a disappointing loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals two years ago. Co-star James Harden has shot 34.6% from the field and 14.3% from distance in four Game 7s since leaving his reserve role on the Oklahoma City Thunder to become a star.

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“It's not going to be easy in that environment,” said Embiid, who recorded a team-high 26 points and 10 rebounds in Game 6. ,

Then, there's Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers, who has a record nine losses in 16 career Games 7s. He has lost four consecutive Game 7s since the 2015 Western Conference Semifinals, when his LA Clippers took a 3-1 series lead. He has never won a road Game 7, and his teams have held six 3–2 series leads.

Just 48 hours after the franchise's biggest win in more than two decades, the Sixers are staring at a litany of off-season questions of their own. If he loses, Rivers will almost certainly not stay on as coach. Harden may return to the Houston Rockets in free agency. And Embiid's record would to 0-4 in the second round. How does he feel about Philadelphia's championship chances in the face of another early exit?

“We've been in this situation before, my rookie year,” said third-year Philadelphia guard Tyrese Maxi. “We've got to go out there and fight. It's going to be a war. One thing I will say is if I had to go to war on the road Game 7 in Boston, I'd go with this group. I know our Have some fighters.”

Meanwhile, the Celtics are 5-1 in Games 7 since Brown's rookie season, with their lone loss coming at the hands of LeBron James in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals when Tatum was barely 20 years old. They won back-to-back Games 7 on the way to last year's NBA Finals, the first at home and the second in Miami.

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Jaylen Brown hugs Boston Celtics co-star Jayson Tatum after their Game 6 win against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

They know the score, and they rediscovered their identity in Game 6. Mazzulla started Robert Williams III for the first time in these playoffs in a double-big lineup alongside Al Horford, who wreaked havoc defensively in last year's playoffs and last regular season. They built a 15–3 lead that extended to a 16-point advantage midway through the second quarter, and Williams finished with a team-best +18 in 28 minutes.

Boston's Marcus Smart said of a needed starting lineup change, “To be able to have Rob out there, he changes the game a lot.” “Being a lob threat and being able to guard the rim on the other end, he's huge for us, and I was proud to have him on the court. It just goes to show that Joe's learning like all of us.” .. I know he's been hit a lot, okay. He needed to make some adjustments, and he did.

Boston's three-headed point guard combination of Smart, Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White sustained the Celtics through Tatum's shooting struggles and Brown's dribbling woes, scoring 47 points (on 10-of-19 shooting from the range), 15 rebounds and Combines for 10 assists. It seems like Tatum and Brown are overdue for a night they've met before and an at-home atmosphere that will be absolutely electric.

“I expect it to be loud and it's going to be rocking,” said Brown, who debuted maskless for the first time since fracturing his face in February. “Celtics fans, they love to call us out, so I'm going to call guys out this time. The energy in the Garden has been fine all playoff. Game 7, if you're there or not, if you're at home.” I don't care if you're looking at a bar, if you're looking at a friend's house across the street. Come with the energy, because we're going to need every bit of it. No excuses. We Everyone is needed. Let's make sure the Garden is ready to go.”

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In the lore of the rivalry, the Celtics are 4–1 in Games 7 at home against the Sixers, an Andrew Toney outburst in the 1982 conference semis marking the only exception to a rule that says the hosts win 75% of the time.

Harden and Embiid both looked fatigued in this second period in points, including Game 6, when Embiid twice held his sprained right knee in pain and Harden missed all four of his fourth-quarter shots. finished 4-for-16. They will get two days of rest for the first time in this series, and they have already won two out of three games at TD Garden. One blast of his own can end his opponent's season.

Harden said, “Boston was in the Finals last year, so somehow we had to get past this team.” “They've been together for a few years. They're well coached. They've got a lot of depth. Everybody knows that. You know what I mean? We've got to get past them, and this is Game 7. Taking chances.”

One team will go into Sunday with hearts broken, the other as championship favourites. Game 7, two of the most illustrious words in basketball, and history will add a new chapter when the ball is tipped in Boston.